Jack the Ripper is a name nearly everyone knows. The brutal murders of five (perhaps more) females are ascribed to the Ripper, and the identity of the killer is one of history’s biggest secrets.
Interestingly, another serial killer was at work during Victorian England, one more prolific and brutal than Ripper. Also a murderer of poor women, and also never caught. I stumbled across this case while researching murders in and around the Thames for the last book in my Regency trilogy, THE LADY HELLION.
The murders are referred to as “The Embankment Murders” or the “Thames Torso Murders.” While the Ripper terrorized London between 1888-1889, the Thames Torso murders spanned 1887-1889, and may have started as early as 1872 or 1873. What separates these cases from Ripper is that the bodies were all dismembered, with the various body parts then wrapped in paper and scattered about Whitehall, Whitechapel, and in the Thames. Ripper, however, concentrated his actions to only Whitechapel and the bodies, while mutilated, were not dismembered in the same fashion as the Torso murders.
I won’t distress the Duchesses by getting into too much detail about the crimes. But it is worth noting that a few of the body locations were telling: one victim’s torso was found by construction workers at the site of New Scotland Yard. Another time, one body part was thrown over the wall of Sir Percy Shelley’s estate in Chelsea. Shelley was the son of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.
Were the two killers one and the same? Dr. Thomas Bond worked as the police surgeon to Metropolitan Police’s A Division and oversaw both the Ripper killings and the Torso murders. He is considered by many as the first profiler, though neither of these high-profile murderers were ever caught. Though there was a resemblance between the killings, he believed different men were responsible, with the embankment murderer being “the more scientific of the two.”
For some time it was doubtful whether all these horrors were the work of one or two persons, but this last murder convinces the medical men that there are two entirely distinct sets of murders and two different men responsible for them. It is believed that in the present instance the body was purposely brought to the Whitechapel district to throw the police off the scent by inducing the belief that the body was that of another victim of Jack the Ripper. In this the perpetrator, however, went to trouble that is entirely superfluous for the police are as much in the fog about the one class of murders as the other.
If you’re interested in the history of police procedure and forensics, these cases and the time period in which they fall are fascinating. It’s not reading for the faint of heart, however, so you may want to have your smelling salts at the ready.
- The Torso Killer: A Ghoulish Grandstander
- The Thames Torso Murders of Victorian London, By R. Michael Gordon
- The Thames Torso Murders of 1887-89
Joanna Shupe has always loved history, ever since she saw her first Schoolhouse Rock cartoon. She has three books coming out in 2015 with Kensington, starting with THE COURTESAN DUCHESS in April.